How the curse of the jilted Technical Author hit Google

Beware the software developer who releases software without adequate user assistance (in plain English: user guides and online Help) for “The curse of the jilted Technical Author” may strike your product.

This curse has just hit Google, who last week announced the demise of Google Wave.

Google released Google Wave without any online Help or a guide for users – just a 45 minute video and two shorter “getting started” video guides.

We blogged at the time of its launch that this could hamper the uptake of the software, saying:

While the application clearly works (although there is some uncertainty as to whether some behaviours are “features” or bugs), this unfamiliarity means that users could give up and reject the application.

(See Google Wave – A case study in 21st Century User Assistance and Google seeks to increase uptake of Google Wave by introducing witty user documentation)

As more complex software is released as “Software as a Service” and delivered as “in the Cloud” software, it’s likely more users will struggle and stop using the product – that is, unless adequate Help is provided as well.



I’m not sure I agree that this curse led to the demise of Google Wave. Excellent help might have explained Wave’s unclear use case better, but I doubt it could’ve swayed user resistance to unfamiliar live collaboration behaviour. If people don’t feel they want or need it, good help is not going to convince them otherwise.

Larry Kunz

I’m with Kai. You can’t say there’s no guide for users when there’s a 45-minute video and two “getting started” videos. The problem was that none of the documentation answered the question “Why would I want to use this?”

Greg DeVore

This wasn’t just a documentation failure. It was a complete communications failure. Google failed to communicate why I would want to use Wave as well as how to use Wave. If you think of Wave adoption as a funnel moving from why to how, they lost a lot of people right at the top.

I tried to use those videos. They were ridiculous. If I remember correctly they showed how to use Google Wave to plan a BBQ. Google was touting paradigm shifting technology that would help me plan a BBQ?

I am sad to see it go though. After several months, we had come up with a pretty good use case for it, despite the awful documentation. It worked very well for collaboratively working on case studies with our customers. Guess we will have to find something else now.


I agree it wasn’t just a documentation failure – there were other problems. However, it was a key part. A lot of issues with the product would have been picked up during the writing phase itself.


@Larry: Videos can be an important component of documentation, but I don’t think a 45 minute video (plus the later addition of two shorter ones) really counts. It was FAR too long and one couldn’t dip in and out to find the specific information one was looking for, in the way that one should be able to do with help or a user guide.

Like others, I have used Wave, but struggled to find a use for it, partly because no one else wants to use it with me. However, my son has found it useful for collaborative projects with friends, partly because one of them is at GMT -8.

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